(Warning! Spoilers below)
I can’t remember when I first saw this classic but decided to watch it again in preparation for an Alien/Predator marathon I’m working through. The story almost needs no introduction but I want to recap on what has now become standard fare for many sci-fi thrillers since. The film starts with the crew of a mining ship being awoken from hyper-sleep to deal with a distress call from a nearby planet/moon. They don’t to go and investigate as it’s out of their way etc. but they go anyway. This is interesting in itself as space was (at that time) the province of national heroes of derring-do and so to display working in space as grubby or even boring was not seen as the norm. For a decade, 2001 had been the classic space adventure and it had shown space (and the future in general) as clean and efficient and the leading characters of Frank and Dave being very clean cut and in the mould of the original, Mercury 7.
Films regarding aliens specifically had also followed certain formulae. They were typically lumbering, mentally slow and usually shown with poor special effects. They used weapons or mind control to attack their human enemies and so lacked a certain “viscerality”.
Alien broke these moulds spectacularly and opened up a whole new genre of sci-fi in which aliens could be fast, cunning and truly terrifying.
The storyline unfolds with one of the crew becoming suffocated by an unknown creature clamped on his face. The bony fingers of the face hugger were sure to make anyone cringe. After seeming to make a full recovery, the now iconic chest burster scene takes place during meal time so shocking the audience with a sudden shift of the crew laughing and joking to having this unknown creature appear literally in the midst of one of their crewmates.
Although set in a futuristic environment, what follows is the stuff of primal fear- being stalked by an unknown, unseen predator of breathtaking speed and strength. The effects during the killing scenes are just enough without being overtly graphic. You never really get a great look at the alien either although you know the general form as could be seen from the chest burster scene.
During the majority of the film, the main protagonist, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) seems to survive more on luck than on her own native cunning. She is also the one who insists on quarantine being carried out even though this is overruled by Ash (played by Ian Holm) for his own reasons. Maybe the subtext is that Ripley survives because she plays by the rules? (:P)
Only towards the end does Ripley save herself by blowing the Alien out of the airlock having gotten herself into a spacesuit. Although Ripley is seen as a traditional action hero, she does not display particular heroism in this film (see my next review for that one!)
I also like the story arc involving Ash who turns out to be an android sent to ensure the alien is captured and returned to Earth for research into commercialisation as a weapon system. This leads to his psychotic behaviour reminiscent of HAL9000 in 2001. However, whilst HAL9000 has been given conflicting orders due to NASA wanting to know about the origins of humanity (i.e. who set-up the monolith?), Ash has been ordered to act by the Weyland-Yutani corporation who only seem to have money in mind. It’s a nice touch to add an “enemy within” to the overarching threat of being ripped limb from limb by an 8 foot alien hunting machine.
The Director’s Cut (which was the version I watched) also wrapped up what happened to Captain Dallas and Engineer Brett who have been infected with chestbursters themselves. However, this does raise the question of where these came from? No eggs were brought onboard so the alien must have impregnated them itself….
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed “Alien” and am looking forward to watching all of the Alien Quadrilogy (I have only seen the first two to date)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.